also spelled KUSANA, ruling line descended from the Yüeh-chih
(q.v.), a people that ruled over most of the northern Indian
subcontinent, Afghanistan, and parts of Central Asia during the first
three centuries of the Christian era. The Yüeh-chih conquered Bactria
in the 2nd century BC and divided the country into five chiefdoms,
one of which was that of the Kushans (Kuei-shuang). A hundred years
later, the Kushan chief Kujula Kadphises (Chiu-Chiu-Chueh) secured
the political unification of the Yüeh-chih kingdom under himself.
Under Kaniska I (fl. 1st century AD) and his successors, the
Kushan kingdom reached its height. It was acknowledged as one of
the four great Eurasian powers of its time (the others being China,
Rome, and Parthia). The Kushans were instrumental in spreading Buddhism
in Central Asia and China and in developing Mahayana Buddhism and
the Gandhara and Mathura schools of art.
The Kushans became affluent through trade, particularly with Rome,
as their large issues of gold coins show. These coins, which exhibit
the figures of Greek, Roman, Iranian, Hindu, and Buddhist deities
and bear inscriptions in adapted Greek letters, are witness to the
toleration and to the syncretism in religion and art that prevailed
in the Kushan empire. After the rise of the Sasanian dynasty in
Iran and of local powers in northern India, Kushan rule declined.
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